I.) We – The Church – Have A Problem
The Problem Stated – The problem is that we are not particularly Christian as the idea of “Christian” has been historically understood.
A recent Barna group polling survey has recently come out with some pretty grim statistics. (Barna is to Christian sociology and polling what Gallup is in the larger world.)
Barna reveals that in America only 9% of adults think in the context of a Christian framework. That means less than 1 in every 10 people you meet will think in ways that you will find affinity with. The survey found that less than .5 of one percent of adults in the Mosaic generation – i.e., those aged 18 to 23 – have a biblical worldview.
Barna defined thinking in a Christian framework as,
Believing that absolute moral truth exists; the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches; Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic; a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works; Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today.
In Barna’s research, anyone who held all of those beliefs was said to have a biblical worldview. In order to be considered as someone who thinks in a Biblical fashion one had to embrace all of these truths.
Now this is really pretty basic stuff. I can guarantee you if I were to give a description of what it means to think in a Christian framework my description would be far more comprehensive. But … we will go with Barna here for the sake of generosity.
So, less than one in ten of the adults we meet think with a conceptual framework that is Biblical.
However, what do we find when we ask how “Christians” themselves think. Here is where things get a little depressing.
Barna found in his survey that when people who consider themselves “born again” Christians – those who are reputed to be on our team — were asked questions that elicited answers that defined the conceptual framework in which they were thinking only 19% were found to think in the context of a Christian framework. That means less then 1 in 5 people you meet in “conservative” Churches (on the average) think in ways that you will find affinity with.
Ok … let me pause right here and massage this fact in a second. This means that when you go to college – even a “Christian” college 4 out of 5 “Christian” students and “Christian” professors that you engage with will not be thinking Biblically. This means that when you go to a community bible study or a work bible study that 4 out of 5 people who are in that Bible study won’t be thinking Biblically. This means that your neighbor next door who is a “good Christian” fellow has an 80% chance that he does not think biblically.
Now we shouldn’t need to spend to much time explaining why this is important. Simply put if Church members do not think biblically then they will not live biblically. Orthopraxy can not exist without orthodoxy. Further this means that “Christians” will have no capacity whatsoever to be salt and light to a decaying world. Further this means that these people will live broken lives because bad theology or bad thinking hurts people. This means that the Church will continue to be just a reflection of the world and will continue to follow the world into a great abyss.
So as we examine the problems we are facing today in the Church in the West we might summarize that there are several troubling patterns that need to be reversed.
1.) Although most Americans consider themselves to be Christian and say they know the content of the Bible, less than one out of ten Americans demonstrate such knowledge through their actions.
Ill. – When I came to Charlotte 14 years ago I saw this in this Church. As my wife and I started working with the 14-18 year olds in became apparent that they did not know the basic bible stories. They did not know the basics of the catechism. And they did not have a Biblical worldview. Similarly, looking back retrospectively, this was true in the Church I grew up in.
2.) The generational pattern suggests that parents are not focused on guiding their children to have a biblical worldview. One of the challenges for parents, though, is that you cannot give what you do not have, and most parents do not possess such a perspective on life.
3.) That raises a third challenge, which relates to the job that Christian churches, schools and parachurch ministries are doing in Christian education. Just as parents cannot give what they do not have, so Churches and para-Church organizations cannot give what they do not have. Given these statistics we must say conclude that most Churches and para-Church organization do not have and so do not teach a Biblical way of thinking.
4.) Finally, things are not getting better over time. Even though a central element of being a Christian is to embrace basic biblical principles and incorporate them into one’s worldview, there has been no change in the percentage of adults or even born again adults in the past 13 years regarding the possession of a biblical worldview.”
The Church is failing its own people and so the Church needs to be evangelized. The born again need to be born again.
So, this is our problem. Let us take a few minutes to look at solutions that have been offered to correct this problem.
II.) Several Solutions To The Problem Have Been Advanced
Solution A – Form Youth Groups
Just this week I received a solicitation from a Church in West Michigan to send my Jr. High students to a youth conference. I have no doubt that this Youth Conference would have some fine speakers. But I wrote the pastor back asking him to reconsider the whole concept of “youth groups.”
Neil Postman an educator by training and a Professor for years wrote a bit about the problems of putting large numbers of similar aged children in a same setting for sustained periods of time.
Creates a sub-culture where the aspiration is not for the students to become like the singular teacher but rather creates a sub-culture where everybody in the group wants to be like everyone else in the group. The teachers are seen as outsiders, and nobody desires to be an outsider. And because of this, even where there is good teaching being done by a good teacher the teaching is muted by peer dynamics.
Further my experience has been with youth groups that what ends up happening is that Congregations hire people not for what they can teach but because they can relate to the youth group. In other words they hire someone because the kids will like them and the kids will like them because they are so much like the kids.
So, while we wouldn’t go so far as to demonize all “Youth Groups” we would say that “Youth Groups” are seldom a solution to the problem that Barna articulates.
Solution B – Emphasize the Catechism or Scripture Memory
This is good as far as it goes but it has been my observation in many cases that this is to often like giving someone a sexton and a star chart without giving them training out to read such instruments.
In other words what I have seen over the years is that students do these things but they are not helped with seeing how Catechism knowledge or Scripture memory applies to real life. To give Scripture memory and Catechism knowledge without giving a larger context – (A Biblical Worldview) in which those things can find their meaning is like giving people all the particulars without giving them any of the universals. If you give somebody a million trees without giving him a sense of what constitutes “Treeness” it isn’t going to do them much good in knowing trees.
So, Catechism and Scripture memory are good but are not by themselves enough.
Ill. – Jane’s Brothers.
Solution C – Send The Children To Christian Colleges
III.) Only The Scriptural Solution affords Any Hope
Scripture teaches that we are to train up a child in the way he should go, and then it promises, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
So, the Scriptural solution to the problem is training in the home. But as we have seen that is an expectation that is perhaps unrealistic because the parents themselves are not trained to think Biblically and so they can’t train up the child in the way they should go because they themselves don’t know the way they should go.
So, the solution has to be larger then that.
When we think about solutions to this problem we have to realize the magnitude of the problem. Big problems seldom go away without large amounts of work.
First, we have to realize that we are probably not going to think Biblically without first unplugging from this culture. If Barna’s survey is right, this culture in its movies, books, media, is not going to help us think Biblically precisely because this culture is at war with a Biblical mindset.
Second, we will have to prioritize what extra time we have left over after all our committed time is spent to sources that will help us think Biblically. The best of these sources will integrate Scripture with worldview thinking helping us to see the contrast between what it means to think Biblically and what is offered by our non-Biblical culture.
Third, we will have to pass this on to our children but since we are still learning we will have to try and put our children and ourselves with them in the way of people we can trust to help them to learn to think Biblically.
This church has many resources to that end from our three services on Sundays to our Wednesday classes to the pastor’s writings on Iron Ink to our Friday Labri classes.
Of course the ultimate solution to the problem Barna’s survey reveals is,
Renewing our minds so we can take every thought captive to make them obedient to Christ.